Drop Vaccination Discrimination, Please Respect Personal Autonomy!

I have mentioned on 13 Oct that while I am not anti-vaccine, I am vehemently against vaccination discrimination. The vaccine is a great weapon against the Covid-19 virus but the implementation of vaccination policies should not divide our society. VDS is now a new acronym used as more measures are announced by the Government. VDS stands for “Vaccination Differentiation Safe management measures.”

The VDS policy is a glaring act of discrimination against a segment of our population. This cannot and must not be tolerated because the individual’s freedom of choice should be sacrosanct in a democratic society and is a basic principle of medical ethics. We should never compromise on this free will other than in circumstances when the survival and security of our nation is at stake. The current situation was created by the Government and the discrimination against the unvaccinated has created division among the people.

Many are not opposed to all vaccines but concerned about some of the newer vaccine technologies. Up until 18 June when the first Sinovac jab was given, there was only the choice of the mRNA vaccines and many were uncomfortable being injected with them. Sinovac was not included in the National Vaccination Programme until 23 October. The availability of Sinovac was limited and Sinopharm only arrived on 30 August but supplies soon also ran out. Much of the vaccine hesitancy among the elderly can be attributed to their preference for the inactivated virus vaccines. Similarly, there will likely be more support for vaccines if parents were allowed to choose the vaccines for their children.

The Government gave two reasons to justify the VDS policy. First, it wants to “protect” the unvaccinated from Covid-19 infection especially the elderly who are more vulnerable and risk getting severely ill when infected, potentially burdening the hospitals further. Second, they want to protect the vaccinated from the unvaccinated.

However, these two reasons are not applicable for the estimated 230,000 unvaccinated persons between ages 13 and 59, which we shall call the “D-Group”. A research paper (link below) just published in The Lancet on 1 November 2021 by a group of doctors from our National Centre of Infectious Diseases confirmed that the D-Group is not more infectious than the vaccinated in onward transmission of the Delta-variant. The rate of household transmission from vaccinated index cases was the same as that for unvaccinated. We also already know that the D-Group does not normally get seriously ill even if infected. According to the daily MOH reports, more than 98% of them have mild or no symptoms. Hence the D-Group is not a threat to the public healthcare system and their low infectivity, even if unvaccinated, provides little justification for the VDS policy to be imposed on them.

The Government could come up with ways to oblige the D-Group to take additional precautions in the public. This group are well-informed people who have made a conscious decision with their valid reasons to stay unvaxed and they would have their own ways of lowering infection risk too.

The Government recognizes that there are individuals who have cancer or other reasons which make vaccination a concern and are prepared to grant the VDS exemption to the medically ineligible for vax but not the D-Group who have their own concerns? Arising from this, the D-Group have asked me whether the VDS measures are truly because of medical considerations and stress on healthcare resources alone or simply to achieve a 100% vaccination rate as pushed by the Government.

The first VDS measures were implemented in August. That was when the unvaccinated were not allowed to dine in restaurants but could dine in two’s in hawker centres and coffee shops and go to the malls. In October, the VDS progressed to disallow the unvaccinated from dining outside and visiting shopping malls. Next, it was announced that from 8 December, the unvaccinated will have to pay for their own Covid-19 treatment should they fall ill with Covid-19.

The most draconian of all to me, however, is the MOM Advisory issued on 23 October which allows the employer to terminate an unvaccinated employee as a last resort because only fully vaccinated employees are allowed to return to the workplace from 1 January 2022. This is a drastic turnaround from the set of guidelines issued jointly by MOM, NTUC and SNEF (together the ‘Tripartite Partners’) on 2 July which included among other things a clear statement that employers are not allowed to terminate, or threaten to terminate, the service of an employee if he or she declines to be vaccinated. And this was at a time when the vaccine efficacy was believed to be higher than it currently is.

It is unthinkable and illogical to ruin a person’s livelihood on the grounds of him or her being unvaccinated. How can such a punishment be proportionate to the ‘offence’ if any? It is now clear that VDS is an indirect exercise of state power to coerce people into obedience and deny freedom of choice despite the Government having officially stated from the outset that vaccination should be a matter of personal choice. Now I truly appreciate what Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher, had meant when he said, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains (by the government and society).”

As 2021 draws to a close, the VDS policy together with the continuing double-digit death count from Covid-19 infections have cast a pall over the approaching festive period. By comparison, we were resolute and undivided as a people at the end of 2020 when infections came under control with zero deaths; our country was being touted as the gold standard in Covid-19 management early in the pandemic.

Ironically, the arrival of the vaccine in 2021 may have polarized our society more than it improved our nation’s health. The fault lies not in the vaccine but the policies regarding its use. Are the policies adopted in line with our national pledge of building a democratic society based on justice and equality? Is it not our duty to leave no Singaporean behind in all our policies?

Hence while I would support the widespread rollout of vaccines for all who are eligible and want to be vaccinated especially the vulnerable, I would call for an immediate review of the various VDS measures on the D-Group and other unvaccinated persons.

Singaporeans deserve better.

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